If you'd asked me last week how I thought I'd be spending the afternoon of November 3rd, 2010, 'Disembowelling a narwhal' and 'Building a cathedral out of meringue' would have come higher on my list of probable activities than "Playing a strategy game set during the Chincha Islands War ". Totem Games' decision to turn a series of obscure mid-Nineteenth Century naval engagements between Spain and a South American alliance into a briny tactics title, takes eccentricity in wargame design to a glorious new level. Suddenly Hussar's Hungarian War of Independence and HPS's Dien Bien Phu efforts seem positively mainstream.
What drove a Russian studio to recreate such a dim and distant conflict ? Having played ICIW for a few hours now, I suspect it wasn't a deep interest in the subject matter. Disappointingly, the game fails to include versions of the key battles of the war, or model any of the broader strategic factors that ultimately led to Spain getting its stern kicked. If it wasn't for the ship names and the flags flapping above taffrails, the series of moderately diverting naval skirmishes that make up the so-called campaign would be utterly generic.
Things that I'm hoping to see in the first patch:
Call me old-fashioned, but when a game includes a topographical feature in its title I expect to see that feature in the game. The absence of land in any shape or form not only scuppers history (port bombardments and blockades were an important part of the war) it also ensures the battles feel desperately samey.
If Totem aren't going to let us hide behind islands, they should at least let us sneak about inside fog banks.
Shouldn't maritime wargames have, um, sailors in them? Not only does ICIW not include 3D crew it also appears to lack 2D or numerical representations. There is simply no suggestion that vessels have humans aboard. The omission means you can't take morbid pleasure in whittling down enemy manpower. That's a flogging offence in my book.
Beyond telling your ships where to go and how quickly to get there, there isn't much for player-admirals to actually do at present. Some thorny damage control decisions might help. If I want to keep everyone at their battle stations while fires rage and water rises, that should be my choice. Entire games have been based on less.
A naval wargame in which masts never fall is like a French Revolution game without decapitations or knitting.
If they don't exist then Totem should have scoured Moscow's 'Little Lima' district until they found a person imaginative or drunk enough to make some up.
The fact that this was possibly the only war in human history caused by one nation taking possession of another's source of bird excrement (gull poo exports from the Chincha Islands provided 60% of governmental revenue in Chile) deserves to be recognised on the box cover. I propose Ironclads: Chincha Island Wars 1866 is relaunched as either Ironclads: Guns, Guano, & Glory or Ironclads: Blue Water, White Gold.